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Rift occurs between Touchstones, Sinixt and leads to ‘discontinued’ conversations

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
July 19th, 2021

Conversation or collaboration has been “discontinued” between Marilyn James and the Autonomous Sinixt and Touchstones Nelson Museum on current or future reconciliation conversations.

The motivation for the move arises from a decision to not display a map recently created by the Autonomous Sinixt for the museum.

The Sinixt counter-map, an Autonomous Sinixt project developed as part of the T’kikstn Language Revitalization project, was researched from anthropological sources and verified by academics at both the University of B.C. and UBC Okanagan and funded by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council and Heritage Canada.

The map incident was the last in a string of events that brought about the exclusion of James and the Autonomous Sinixt from Touchstones events for years, James said in a press release.

“Thus, it was not one incident, but rather a series of harmful choices that lead to this sad day,” she wrote.

Touchstones did not “fundamentally” disapprove of the map, however.

“Rather, we deferred in order to have time to consult with indigenous academics, elders and community leaders to ensure that the information represents the thousands of Sinixt in this region, on both sides of the border,” a release from the city’s museum explained.

James and her daughter Taress Alexis retrieved the artifacts of their ancestors from Touchstones this week.

Removal of the two family baskets — one over 500 years old, the other over 300 years old — was precipitated by “persistent and ongoing colonial and harmful behaviour by Touchstones toward Autonomous Sinixt and Marilyn James,” wrote Lori Barkley in the release from James and the Sinixt.

“Touchstones has deliberately fomented divisions among Sinixt and other indigenous people by asserting that there is only one representative of Sinixt people with whom they and others must work,” she wrote.

“If these baskets are good enough to sit in (Touchstone) display cases, then the Indians they belong to need to be included in Touchstones’ events and programming as well,” James and Alexis said in a joint statement.

The baskets are expected to go on display in Rossland and other museums, the release explained.

Fifteen years ago the museum was loaned the baskets — from James, a member of the Autonomous Sinixt — as examples of the “incredible skill and ingenuity” of the Autonomous Sinixt to share with the community.

Before the return of the baskets this week the museum had embarked on a redevelopment of its space to work in collaboration with indigenous nations and change the museum exhibit on the second floor to be more inclusive.

“We have made this commitment with the hope that over time we will build better relationships with people traditionally marginalized by museums in our community, so everyone will feel agency and ownership of the stories being told in this public space,” the release stated.

“We hope to work with Marilyn James and the Autonomous Sinixt to include the history and living culture of the Autonomous Sinixt in this new museum space. We recognize the  responsibility to do better lies on our shoulders.”

Those statements were refuted by the Autonomous Sinixt.

“They have failed to state what steps they will take, nor do their actions in returning the baskets speak to a departure from their past practices that lead to the withdrawal of the items from the museum,” the release from James.

“The return of the baskets on the sidewalk, during a heat wave, rather than being invited into the museum and given adequate space to properly facilitate all the steps required for Autonomous Sinixt to receive the baskets in a culturally appropriate way was disappointing and disrespectful,” said political anthropologist and witness Barkley.

This story was updated from a version posted earlier.

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